Preview: Public House

Image credit: Ciaran Walsh

Public House, a special one-off show on for one night only this Friday night in Jesus College Bar, looks set to be a fascinating piece of theatre, and a rare venture beyond the walls of ADC venues and of traditional scripted drama which box in so much of Cambridge theatre.

Carina Harford, Director of the show and one of the founders of the Old Vag Club (along with Laura Camerona, Isla Anderson, Eliza Bacon, Grainne Dromgoole and Becca Bradburn), the company putting the play on, tells me about its origins:

‘No one wrote the show. It is comprised of stories submitted to us.

I came up with the idea after a night at the pub with a friend, during which I was harassed more than usual (it ended with a stranger throwing a drink on me after he had stroked my neck without my permission), and a (different) man uttered the following, illuminating, sentiment:

Man: ‘Do you know what a pub is?’

Me: ‘Yeah, a public house.’

Man: ‘Exactly, public.’

He had asked for a cigarette, then sat down at my table. He talked to me for upwards of ten minutes, blocking my friend out of the conversation, and then was wildly offended when I asked him to leave us alone, and said the above, as if the fact that the space was ‘public’ was an excuse to dominate my personal space, time and politeness.

I felt I’d never seen a piece of theatre about this kind of presumptive interaction, or anything that sustained this enquiry: why do people do this? When is it ok and when is it not? How does it work with gender, age, ethnicity, appearance? And, importantly, how is this kind of behaviour linked to much more serious behaviours? When the ‘public’ interaction moves behind closed doors into a ‘private’ space.’

The play, Harford tells me, will be made up of a series of anecdotes about such uncomfortable encroachments of the public into the private space, gathered from the cast, the directorial team, and from elsewhere. These invasions of private space can sometimes amount to assault and rape, and Harford tells me that while these issues will be treated with the utmost sensitivity, the play does not hold back in its frank depictions and discussion of such incidents.

‘I also wanted the scale of the problem to be emphasised. I didn’t want to dramatise one story, but rather draw attention to the sheer quantity of stories from even in this relatively small group of contributors. There’s a reason everyone has a story, and if we don’t start talking about those reasons, this kind of behaviour will continue, unchallenged. I don’t believe people are born ‘predators’, but rather are made over time, with certain behaviours going unquestioned, and from there, opening avenues to even more unpleasant behaviours, which too often also go unchallenged, and unpunished.’

The play’s style is very intriguing and unusual in the Cambridge context. While each individual story has already been prepared by the actors for performance, the night of the performance will be the first time that it has been ‘performed’. The play’s structure is spontaneous, and there will be a lot of interaction with the audience, with the intention being that the performers will, at first, be indistinguishable from the ‘clientele’ of the pub which the Old Vag Club are aiming to create.


Public House is on Friday night in Jesus College Bar, with half of profits going to Cambridge Rape Crisis.

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